Playwright Jeremy O Harris Defends ‘Black Out Nights’ for Slave Play in West End, Creating Safe Spaces for Black Audiences

Playwright Jeremy O Harris Defends ‘Black Out Nights’ for Slave Play in West End, Creating Safe Spaces for Black Audiences

Amidst the upcoming run of Slave Play at London’s Noël Coward Theatre, playwright Jeremy O Harris defends the decision to host exclusive ‘Black Out Nights.’

Scheduled for the evenings of July 17 and September 17, these events aim to provide a safe space for an ‘all-Black identifying audience’ to experience the play free from what Harris terms as the ‘white gaze.’

Necessity of Radically Inviting Black Audiences

Jeremy O Harris emphasizes the necessity of initiatives that radically invite Black individuals into spaces traditionally perceived as exclusive.

In an interview with BBC Sounds, he articulates the importance of making individuals, especially those from working-class and Black communities, feel that the theatre is a place where they belong.

Addressing Concerns: Uncomfortable Exclusivity

When questioned about the discomfort caused by excluding white individuals from these events, Harris asserts that the purpose is not to uninvite anyone but to create specific nights where Black audiences can feel safe.

He argues that many places are generally inhabited by white people without similar scrutiny.

Cultural Differences: White and Black Audiences Respond Differently

Harris acknowledges cultural differences in audience responses, citing a history of ‘call and response’ in Black American audiences, making the experience potentially noisier.

He contends that for Slave Play, a Black Out night offers a culturally distinct atmosphere, providing Black theatergoers with a unique and more comfortable experience.

Accessible Ticket Pricing and Inclusivity Efforts

To enhance accessibility, Harris reveals plans to offer over 200 tickets per week for Slave Play at the cost of just £1, aiming to make theatre attendance feasible for those from less privileged backgrounds.

Drawing from his own experiences, Harris highlights the importance of accessibility, having been unable to afford Broadway plays in his younger years.

Legal Questions and Historical Controversy of Slave Play

While Slave Play tackles race, identity, and sexuality in twenty-first century America, a senior Tory MP questions the legality of barring white individuals from the show.

The play, despite its critical acclaim and 12 Tony nominations in 2021, faced controversy upon its debut, with some arguing it made light of chattel slavery and left audience members offended.

Critique on Celebrity Casting and Previous ‘Black Out’ Events

Harris criticizes the prevalent trend of casting celebrities for commercial theatre performances, emphasizing the importance of focusing on the substance of the play rather than relying on marquee names.

This controversy echoes previous instances, such as Theatre Royal Stratford East’s ‘Black Out’ events for Tambo & Bones, which faced criticism for excluding white patrons.

Director’s Perspective: Creating Space for Nuanced Discussions

Matthew Xia, director of Tambo & Bones, defends the concept of ‘Black Out’ events, asserting the importance of creating spaces where Black theatregoers can explore complex and nuanced race-related issues.

The ongoing debate highlights the delicate balance between inclusivity, cultural sensitivity, and potential legal concerns in the realm of theatre.

TDPel Media

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